With a one-run lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning, the Indians turned to reliever Phil Maton, who, in five career appearances against the Tigers, had not given up a run in six frames. After a leadoff walk and a single through the first three batters, the Tribe decided to leave Maton on the mound, but the move didn’t pan out.
The Tigers had runners on first and second when Eric Haase, a former member of the Indians organization, served a single into center field to tie the game, before Daz Cameron followed with another RBI single that sparked a four-run frame in Cleveland’s 5-2 loss to Detroit on Saturday night at Comerica Park.
The Indians were hoping to close in on clinching a postseason berth. If the Tribe had won Saturday -- in addition to a Mariners loss to the Padres -- the team could have clinched as early as Sunday. Now, the Indians will have to wait a few more days to punch their ticket.
“Maton has done a tremendous job for us in the late role,” temporary Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “Unfortunately, he walked a few guys in the eighth, three hits, and he didn’t have it.”
After Cameron’s single, Maton walked pinch-hitter Miguel Cabrera, prompting Alomar to hand the ball over to Cam Hill. Cal Quantrill had locked down the fifth and sixth innings, while Nick Wittgren worked a scoreless seventh. Though James Karinchak had been stirring in the bullpen, he was not given the green light to begin warming up (having worked three of the last four nights), which left Hill to handle the last two-thirds of the frame.
“Last four out of six [games] too, so we didn’t want to use him tonight,” Alomar said. “We tried to stay away from him.”
The Tribe will have to continue to prepare for situations when Karinchak is unavailable since he’s used so often, especially with the postseason quickly approaching. Aside from Maton and Hill, the Indians also had options in Oliver Pérez, Adam Plutko and Brad Hand in the ‘pen.
The team tries to limit one-inning outings for Plutko just in case the next day would require a long reliever. Hand would have been held for the ninth. And after Harold Castro, who led off the frame, the next five hitters in the Tigers’ lineup were either right-handed or a switch-hitter, making it tough for Pérez to be used.
Between Maton and Hill, Maton has had a little more time to prove he can be reliable in his high-leverage usage, as opponents have posted the lowest OPS against him in those situations, as opposed to medium- or low-leverage circumstances.
Through August, Maton demonstrated that he could be a go-to arm out of the bullpen, owning a 0.87 ERA in 10 appearances with 14 strikeouts and no walks in 10 1/3 frames. But since the calendar flipped to September, he hasn’t been as sharp, pitching to an 11.57 ERA in nine games (nine earned runs, seven innings).
But at the first sight of trouble on Saturday, after Maton allowed two runners to reach base with only one out, Alomar gave the reliever a chance to work out of it and it snowballed into a four-run frame.
“We patched up the fifth, sixth and seventh pretty good,” Alomar said. “The eighth, unfortunately … [Maton] got in some trouble and couldn’t recover.”
The Tigers’ offense made it difficult on the Tribe’s pitching staff, knocking starter Triston McKenzie, who has an 85-pitch limit in each of his starts, out after the fourth inning and racking up 10 hits on the night.
“We had opportunities. Tough breaks, too,” Alomar said. “Their offense, our pitching tonight had to get through a lot of traffic. They left like 10 guys on base, so we were very fortunate to be in that game to begin with.”